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Grease Marking Pencils

Regardless of your interests or whatever industry you may be familiar with, if you have ever worked with a surface other than wood or paper which required you to write upon it, you're probably familiar with the benefits of a grease marking pencil. This type of pencil or tool is called by several different names: mechanical grease pencil, china marker, marking pencil, grease marker, etc. These names are synonymous and refer to a nontoxic writing implement that can be used to write on any surface.

The grease pencil, wax pencil or china marker was the first writable-erasable marker made of hardened colored wax and was used to mark non-porous coated surfaces for identification, inspection and communication. This type of writing element preceded felt / flow pens.

Within my sketchbook practice, and since the inception of keeping a sketchbook, I have for a decade now used the five bold colors offered by the Sharpie company brand for usage within my journals.

While consistently asking myself why this was termed a “china marker”, I have finally looked this up, and although there is no definite conclusion, the term does refer to initially writing on china, and perhaps not with the country name itself. However, since china / porcelain was invented in China dating from the Shang dynasty (1600-1046BC), it’s fair to say the origin of the name could also make sense.

Another company that produces china marker pens, to which I’m personally pleased to learn about, is the 100-year-old Listo Pencil Company who invented the grease marking pencil and has been manufacturing these tools since 1921. They offer a pen with refillable sticks, with eight colors to choose from. And since production continues today, I can additionally expand my rainbow by now by sourcing this brand.

No wonder, the unleaded and non-graphite marking pencils have proven useful well outside the art world in a full array of settings: industrial, food and beverage, agricultural, auto, boating, hospitals, office supply, construction-based settings – you get the idea!

The markings stay put and then can be easily wiped from non-porous surfaces with a soft cloth and water. China markers are water resistant, colorfast, leaving an opaque mark without skipping and rarely scratch the surface which it is applied to.

Using the pull string Sharpie brand pencil, you can easily expose the paper wrapped core called the secant- fancy word for “to cut” this precut paper which allows one to expose more of the tip. You can then see the inner layer, making for easy usage and carrying as no sharpener is ever required. Remove the inner roll paper but be careful not to expose too much color stick, as when you apply pressure, it can easily break off.

One useful exercise I enjoy and employ regularly is to take one of my personal photographs, print a number of them; I tend to like the 4” x 6” size, and then alter the imagery. In order to resolve composition, scale, color, or continue developing within a series of like imagery, this answers many open-ended questions. Given the fact an artist usually works alone, unlike an artist who has assistants, this method of working can offer immediate visual feedback and clarity.

Lastly, should you find yourself in the fortunate ability to travel, you will easily be able to pack these portable pencils along with your sketchbook; and best of all, no sharpener required, just pull the string to expose the wax.

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